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Privatization hits roadblock

January 28, 2013

WOONSOCKET — The Budget Commission has refused to let the city’s plan to privatize a new water treatment plant move forward after hearing from a well-organized band of opponents at its last meeting.
But Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, a member of the commission and one of the staunchest advocates of privatization, says the panel could revisit the issue as early as Feb. 5.
At issue is whether the city should ask outside engineers to develop bid specifications for the $50 million proposal based on the premise that the new water plant will be designed, built and operated by one for-profit firm. The plant would be owned by the city, but the same company that builds it would also be offered a contract to operate it with its own employees for 20 years.
“It’s absolutely the most cost effective way of building the best plant with the least impact on water rates,” says Fontaine.
Fontaine asserts that much of the blowback to privatization of late has been orchestrated by employees of the Charles Hamman Water Treatment Plant on Manville Road, roughly 30 individuals who are represented by Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
If the future overseers of the proposed plant do business anything like Veolia North America, which ran the regional wastewater plant for many years, the workforce could be trimmed by up to two thirds.
A small parade of opponents, some carrying “Stop Privatization” signs, packed Harris Hall as last week’s commission meeting came to order, and many of them wore their union stripes with pride.
John Burn, a staff representative for Council 94, said privatization is a bad deal for both workers and ratepayers. He said it will be a double-whammy for the workers, who are apt to face cuts in benefits and higher health care costs before they are handed over to a private company for more rollbacks.

Read more in our print edition.

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